Mayor Jack Thomas last week sent a two-page letter to the top executives at Park City Mountain Resort parent Powdr Corp. and Vail Resorts urging them to attempt to reach an agreement in a lawsuit centered on PCMR's lease of the acreage underlying most of the resort's terrain.
The letter, dated June 18, went to John Cumming, the CEO of Powdr Corp., and his counterpart at Vail Resorts, Rob Katz. City Hall released the letter Tuesday in response to an open-records request filed by The Park Record.
It is City Hall's most notable action in the case. The municipal government is not a party in the lawsuit, and officials have been reluctant to involve themselves. There has been pressure recently, though, from some members of the community for City Hall to become involved in an effort to attempt to help negotiate a settlement.
The letter says Thomas and the Park City Council are "disappointed by the lack of meaningful negotiations to date. I believe the community at large shares this sentiment."
"At this juncture, notwithstanding your short term legal rights, additional legal jockeying will further entrench both sides rather than facilitating resolution of the broader operational stalemate," Thomas says.
The letter says other communities experience similar situations "on a smaller scale," describing a scenario of a restaurant failing to renegotiate the renewal of a lease and then closing.
"Of course in comparison, your situation impacts the community hundreds of times over, and it is hard to delineate a single employee, visitor, resident or business owner who will not be affected by your decisions," the letter says.
It also notes, using the restaurant scenario as an analogy, the situation is further complicated since the PCMR side owns the parking lots and base area. The disputed terrain "is essentially the dining room and the tenant still owns the kitchen and parking," Thomas says in the letter.
Thomas, meanwhile, says City Hall will not involve itself in the case. Doing so "would wrongly interject elected officials in determining the winners and losers in a private, contractual dispute," he says.
"Therefore, neither side should assume that the City will take action that will directly benefit or encumber either of the parties in your negotiation. Any reliance on City action or inaction as a strategy would clearly be a mistake," the letter says.
Thomas urges the two sides to engage each other in alternative dispute resolution. He says City Hall will pay to hire a mediator. He asks "that the parties consider immediately suspending all litigation without prejudice and commit immediately to operational continuity in the 2014-2015 season."
"The community which has and will support the past and future success of the resort, in whatever form, deserves as much," he says. "As we have done historically, only together can we best position the resorts and the town to proactively and, in a united manner, engage our future," the mayor says.
The letter was dated the day before a critical hearing in the case. Ryan Harris, the 3rd District Court judge presiding over the case, indicated during the hearing he would sign a de facto eviction order against PCMR but stay the enforcement of the order. He ordered the two sides to enter mediation, giving them an Aug. 15 deadline. Another hearing centered on the eviction order is scheduled Aug. 27.
There have been at least two statements from outside City Hall recently addressing the possibility officials could become involved in the case. The Historic Park City Alliance, a business group centered along Main Street, last week asked that City Hall take action to ensure the disputed terrain is used during the next ski season.
A Wall Street analyst who follows Vail Resorts, meanwhile, mentioned the prospects of political leaders becoming involved. Vail Resorts is overseeing the lawsuit for Talisker Land Holdings, LLC as part of the Colorado firm's agreement to operate the Talisker corporate family owned Canyons Resort. The deal could be extended to the disputed PCMR terrain depending on the outcome of the case.
City Hall has had a limited role in the litigation, and Park City leaders had been reluctant to speak publicly with any detail about the case prior to the mayor's letter. The leaders have appeared to want a resolution, though. The mayor recently said in an interview City Hall does not "have a legal footing in this." Thomas was speaking in response to the Wall Street analyst's report that mentioned the idea of City Hall becoming involved in some fashion.